Although he was already a France international when he signed for Newcastle United back in 2011, the arrival of Yohan Cabaye at St James’ Park was relatively low key. As part of Lille’s championship winning midfield he was well respected in Ligue 1, but virtually a nobody in the Premier League.
Four years later, the 29-year-old midfielder is set to make his return across the channel to join Crystal Palace, but this time there is an expectation surrounding Cabaye – and the player is under pressure to turn back the clock.
In his last two seasons for Lille, Cabaye contributed 15 goals and 14 assists as Rudi Garcia’s 4-3-3 went from surprise dark horses to winning their first Ligue 1 title in 57 years. The £4.3 million Newcastle paid to take him to the North-East was an absolute bargain, especially after he settled quickly and became a key component in Alan Pardew’s overachievers.
After finishing just four points above the relegation zone last season, finishing fifth in 2012 with Premier League Manager of the Year Pardew on the sidelines and Cabaye on the pitch must seem like a very long time ago for the Toon Army.
While back then it was Cabaye that helped build Pardew’s reputation, now it is the job of the Londoner to save the ailing career of the fading playmaker.
In the winter of 2013, Cabaye used his increased reputation to force a move to French champions Paris Saint-Germain. Laurent Blanc sanctioned the £19 million transfer, bringing in a player that he trusted from his time as the French national team coach.
For PSG, the move made perfect sense, however, for Cabaye, there were huge risks involved – predictably, it didn’t go how he would have planned.
In Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi, PSG had one of the best in-form midfield trios in not just France, but all of Europe. For Cabaye to break that unit up and find regular first-team football, he would have needed to hit the ground running and play the best football of his career.
Eighteen months later and Cabaye has only managed to start 13 games for the Parisian club. His record of one goal and two assists – compared to his time at Lille and Newcastle – is nothing to be proud of.
Injuries have hampered his spell in the French capital, but in reality, the main reason for his lack of playing time is merely the poor level of his performances.
The saddest part of his stint in Paris is not that his performances were bad, but it is more that he was, at times, close to invisible. When he was on the pitch he was ineffective and disappointing. His swashbuckling, carefree, classy style of play disappeared, leaving the mere shell of a player that at one point was the toast of Newcastle.
During the last international break, Cabaye returned to the France team, playing the first-half as Belgium beat Les Bleus 4-3 at the Stade de France – after the game the French press asked him if he would need to move on this summer.
"If I have to make that decision, it will be a pleasure to see my old coach. I enjoy it with him and he does a great job.”
"I am in a situation today where I am not getting the game time that I was hoping for. The important thing is that I will think carefully and make the best decision.”
Moving back to England makes sense for Cabaye. It is the last place where he played positive impressive football, and reuniting with the coach that got the best out of him as an attacking threat is, by far, the safest option.
There was talk of a possible return to St James’ Park but when he was making his decision there wasn’t a first-team coach in place, and with the fans still not delighted by the way he left it would have been akin to returning to an ex-lover – you never go back.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to speak with him or even to call him, but I know that if he texted me, called me or wanted to meet me in Paris, I would do it with pleasure,” revealed Cabaye when asked about how he and Pardew parted ways at Newcastle. “I just want to give him back whatever he gave me. He’s a good manager and is going to stay that way in my mind.”
It’s obvious that there is no bad blood between the two men, and now Cabaye will have the chance to repay Pardew.
If the 29-year-old can rediscover the form that made him a hero in black and white, it will not only justify the eight figure sum the Eagles are about to pay for his services, but it will also give the midfielder the chance to keep his international place ahead of the 2016 European Championships.
The Tourcoing born midfielder is at a crossroads in his career, after spending 14 years with Lille, Palace will be his third club in four years.
Right now, he needs Pardew more than Pardew needs him.
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